"I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing"

   Despite Frankenstein's refusal to explain in detail his life-giving discoveries, for fear of their catastrophic results being repeated, they have become inextricably linked to the contemporary electrical experiments of Italian scientist Luigi Galvani (1737-1798).  Shelley herself identifies them in her introduction to the 1831 edition as among the topics of conversation at Byron's villa (See note to page 3).  Galvani demonstrated that an electric charge could be used to animate a disembodied frog's leg, theorising the existence of a motivating 'animal electricity' produced by the muscles themselves.  While this was swiftly disproven his research heralded the very real science of electrophysiology, and inspired a popular fascination with the possibility of returning dead tissues to at least a semblance of life. 

   This lust for spectacle was more than satisfied by his nephew Giovanni Aldini's public demonstrations with the reanimation of both animal and human body parts.  The most famous of these was presented to London's Royal College of Surgeons in 1803 when the freshly hung body of murderer George Forster was made to grimace, blink, breathe, and convulse its limbs through the application of conducting rods attached to a powerful battery.  Some observers reputedly believed that with enough electric current a dead body might actually return to life (a myth still perpetuated by televised medical dramas).  Despite there being no explicit mention of galvanism in this edition of the novel (See note to page 24), the popular connection between Frankenstein's experiment and electricity was cemented for all time by James Whale's famous 1931 film adaptation.


Online edition of The Newgate Calendar (1803), monthly bulletin of executions reporting Forster's postmortem electrocution and fearful credulity of uneducated observers